"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mistborn: The Final Empire

by Brandon Sanderson

I love me a good fantasy novel, but I am more and more picky about which ones I spend time reading.  Lately, the ones that have intrigued me the most are those which have magic that is based on some kind of more "scientific" or tangible aspect.  I don't know if that makes sense, but I like the idea of magic coming from some sort of source other than just your mind, or a "magic" wand.  I like to know why the magic works the way it does, even if I know that its not really real.  Its fascinating for me to imagine an author than can make up these ways of looking at magic that are based in some sort of a realistic concept, its an amazing skill.  One of my past reviews of "The Name of the Wind" is one of these kind of books.

I found the book Mistborn similar in that manner, although its not as big a book, and its probably more appropriate for a young audience than the other.  It however is probably not meant for a young audience as it still has a fair amount of violence in it.

The story is about a young girl named Vin who survives in a street thief gang that works in the capitol city of a land that is plagued with continuous ash falling, and a great disparity between classes.  It is ruled over by the Lord Ruler, a man who "saved" the world and is thought to be immortal, but who has turned his world into a dark and evil place.  Vin has a type of magic she calls "Luck" which allows her to alter people's emotions.  She eventually meets up with a man named Kelsier who wants to lead a revolt against the Lord Ruler.  He teaches Vin more about her magic, which is based on the "burning" of different types of metals that are swallowed into the body.  The group eventually uses Vin to infiltrate the nobility to be a spy.  Things are complicated (as always) when Vin meets a young nobleman who isn't what she expected.  Much of Vin's dilemmas center around trust and friendship.  And there is always the mysteries lying behind the story that make you wonder - Who is the Lord Ruler?  Is he immortal?  How did he save the world?  And why is there the constant ashfall?

I suspected a few different versions of how the story would end, but didn't get close to guessing until the very end, and even then there were some great and unexpected surprises.  The characters are realistic to me, and I like the philosophy of how religion and belief work in this book.  It doesn't give you a nice, neatly wrapped ending or even answers, but I'm very much looking forward to reading the next in the series to find out!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Farthest North

by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

Well, this was one hefty book and it took me forever to finish it.  Not because it was all that large compared to other books I've read, but because it was simply some heavy reading.  Its the true story, told through journals, of a group of Norwegians who attempt to make it to the North Pole in 1893.  Although they do not succeed in making it all the way there, they got closer than anyone else had at the time and also fulfilled a number of other plans they had to test some theories about the Arctic region and discover all they could to help future explorations.  The first travel as far as they can by ship, purposely getting themselves locked in the ice so as to be taken along with the drift of the icebergs.  Then, when they have gone as far as they can that way, two of the leaders of the expedition set off on dogsleds to make it as far as they can in that manner.  The ship continues on, headed for home, and the men on the dogsleds make it 146 miles farther north than another else before they are forced to head for home.

I enjoyed the details of the preparation for the trip, especially the details (not that I got it all) about the ship and how it was built, as well as the things they brought with them.  Life on the ship seemed pretty easy going and it was fascinating to think of people back then being so at easy in the north pole, not worried at all about being stuck in the ice for a few winters straight.  It details exciting events such as whales, ice breaking up, and bear attacks.  The real story begins though, when the two men take off on sledges, an arduous journey that is truly amazing as they go over rough ice, sleep together in a soggy reindeer sleeping bag, have to eventually kill off their dogs to survive, and winter in a homemade igloo for months on end.  This part is where it really got me, when they talk of living in a small confined space, no bathing, where their clothes begin to rot, and begin to have to ration their food.  And of course, one cannot help but be excited when they finally make it back to "civilization" and see their first fellow human in over a year.

However, as much as this story is interesting, there is a lot that bogs the reader down.  The journals of Dr. Nansen were not written to be entertaining or a "good read".  They were written to log events and scientific discovery.  Much of what is detailed is just that - details that are of not interest to me particularly.  And much of it is repetitive and mundane, because of the nature of the journey.  Traveling across polar ice is not the most exciting of adventures on a detailed daily level.  Curiously, I stuck with this book at times because of the nature of the story.  Every time I got bogged down, I felt myself feeling like if I gave up on these guys, they'd never make it home.  I felt like my reading this book was at times like their story, some exciting but much of it a little tiring.  For some reason I felt it would do the story an injustice if I didn't see it through to the end.  And I am glad I did.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dragon's Gate

by Laurence Yep

Sorry I haven't posted a review lately, but big things are happening for us and its been a little crazy of late.  My reading time has been sparse, but I've managed to finally get through a rather large book I was working on.  But this review is instead about a book I read in between waiting for the library to let me check the big one out again, and which was much more manageable and enjoyable.

Dragon's Gate is written by Laurence Yep, a prolific author of children's and young adult books that tell stories centering around Chinese immigrants and their stories.  This particular book of his is about a young man who lives a good life is China but dreams of going to the "Golden Mountain" of America with his father and uncle, who proclaim it to be a wonderful place.  Through unexpected circumstances he ends up going to the Golden Mountain and finds out that it is not at all what he expected.  He joins his father and uncle who work blasting through a mountain to build the railroad.  The Chinese workers are treated poorly and unfairly as they work on the "Dragon's Gate" as they call it.  The boy Otter helps the other workers see the way they are being treated and begins a small revolt that leads to a strike.  The workers are able to negotiate for better treatment, but it forever changes young Otter and makes him see the world in a different way.

I enjoyed this story because it was based on true events.  It started with a lovely story about a small part of Chinese culture at the time, and then it moved into the terrible and true story of the Chinese immigrants that made much of the railroad and the Western expansion possible.  Yep does a fabulous job of understating things and not making them too melodramatic, mostly because a story like this does not need anything added to it to make it poignant, important, and touching.  I'm not the only one who thinks this is a great book since it won a Newbery Honor Award in 1994.